At the age of five, Musadiq Bidar would wake up at 6 a.m., working all day at a carpet factory in Islamabad, Pakistan, taking just a 30-minute break for lunch.
Twelve years later, Bidar is a high school graduate gearing up to attend GW in the fall, a far cry from the dusty and dangerous conditions he once called home.
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Bidar relocated to a Pakistani refugee camp with his family when he was four years old. When the Taliban took control of the camp, a bomb landed in his front yard, killing his grandfather.
Survival in the camp was tough. Armed with only a few bags of belongings, Bidar and his family struggled to find food and keep it from spoiling, as well as obtain clean, drinkable water – tasks unheard of for an average GW student.
“My mom would walk 40 minutes to get some clean water and ice for us. By the time she came back home, most of it melted,” Bidar said.
Relocating for the second time, the family moved from the camp to the city of Islamabad, where Bidar’s father’s friend had a carpet factory and house. Bidar and five family members rented a small room and lived together in close quarters while working at the factory.
“At night, my parents would home school my brother and I,” Bidar said. “It wasn’t great. It wasn’t better than an education that you’d get at a regular school, but it was better than nothing.”
Bidar’s aunt – who also lived with them – was a teacher and taught him basic English like “hello” and “goodbye.”
Eventually the family applied to the Australian embassy for a visa. They were denied. The embassy, however, referred the Bidars to the United Nations, and the UN forwarded their case to an American embassy. Four years later, the American embassy accepted the Bidars’ petition to move to the United States. Bidar was about 10 years old.
“I can still remember the day my dad got the call. We had six days to prepare everything,” Bidar said, recalling the family’s secrecy about their plans, out of fear that neighbors would rob the house if their immigration plans were leaked.
For three months, the family remained in Arizona with a house and plenty of food, said Bidar. But his mother had a contact in California who assured them of greater opportunity in the Golden State, so the family moved once again.
“If the UN sends you somewhere and you leave that place, you’re on your own,” Bidar said. “Because we left Arizona, we had to find our own resources and get everything started on our own.”
Finally, Bidar enrolled in the sixth grade and his eyes “opened to a whole new world,” he said.
“I was six years behind from everyone else. The only math I knew was two plus two and I still needed to learn English,” Bidar said.
Within four months, Bidar could articulate in English and socialize. He found a tutor who turned into a friend, and later applied to the Athenian School – a college preparatory school where he earned a full scholarship.
In a more difficult school and still behind other students, Bidar said he realized the need to buckle down and study.
“I told myself I was given the opportunity to get a top-notch education, so I was going to take it,” he said.
Bidar will continue his education at GW this fall studying journalism.
“When I visited George Washington last October, it was amazing and I saw myself walking around GW and D.C. You’re never away from the news,” Bidar, an early decision applicant, said. He was at school when he looked at his acceptance status online.
“I literally just started running around the library,” Bidar said.
The new Colonial hopes to one day go back to Afghanistan and report from the country as a native Afgani.
“People today have such stereotypes and don’t know what’s really going on,” Bidar said. “I want to change that with my reporting.”
The article was corrected on June 15, 2010 to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet erroneously reported that a bomb killed Bidar’s grandfather in a Pakistani camp after the Taliban took over. The bomb actually landed in Kabul.